3 Ways Mobile Robots Improve Industrial Inspections

Mobile robots enable safe, reliable inspections for condition monitoring and predictive maintenance, even in remote or hazardous locations.

5 minute read

In an industrial setting, equipment failure or faulty infrastructure often requires costly unplanned downtime to repair. Process industries are looking to asset performance management (APM) and industrial predictive analytics technologies to identify impending failures, before they cause larger problems. But research from ARC Advisory Group found that 59 percent of APM system users receive less than a week notice of impending failure. This is, in part, because data capture for condition monitoring and predictive maintenance is often resource-intensive and unreliable.

While the application of robots in inspections isn’t new, they haven’t always posed a viable alternative to routine operate rounds and readings. With stairs, cramped quarters, tight angles, grated walkways and more, many industrial sites prove too difficult for wheeled or tracked robots just to get around, much less perform useful inspection activities.

But now a new breed of agile mobile robots, like Spot, offer the functionality and autonomy to make robotic inspection not only a reality, but also a strategic priority.

Capture Repeatable, Reliable Data For Industrial Predictive Analytics

According to research from Deloitte, 94% of executives at industrial companies see digital transformation as a priority, but far fewer believe their organization is ready for this shift. Operationalizing data offers significant opportunities to improve efficiency and performance. But the data capture at scale needed to capitalize on these opportunities can prove a costly and unreliable process.

It may seem easy enough to have an inspector carry inspection equipment around your work site, but most predictive maintenance or predictive analytics tools require lots and lots of structured data to produce accurate results. If you need to perform scans every day or every week, manual inspections quickly become expensive, disruptive, and cumbersome, dragging team members away from other more productive activities. Moreover, human-led inspections are unfortunately prone to human error. It’s easy for inspectors to overlook small details, especially as inspections become rote and routine.

On the other hand, the application of a robotic inspection platform can follow an inspection route repeatedly, hitting the exact same stop points every time. Equipped with payloads to record exactly the data you need, an agile mobile robot can go wherever a person could to scan, measure, and report back to you without missing a beat.

Maximize Uptime at Remote Facilities

And what about remote or inaccessible locations? Manual inspections can be a major inconvenience, requiring travel and disrupting normal operations. Installing Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors can provide some insight from afar, but retrofitting an entire oil rig or power plant with enough sensors to capture continuous data without coverage gaps can quickly become cost-prohibitive.

Despite the challenges, these remote and hazardous locations are exactly where regular inspections can have the biggest ROI. In fact, some analysts estimate that increased automation and robotization could enable companies in heavy industry to capture the next 10 to 15 percent of cost improvement. Having "eyes on" consistently allows you to identify potential issues before they escalate into major outages or hazards that require extended downtime to fix. Once again, agile mobile robots provide a powerful solution for this problem.

A self-charging industrial inspection robot, or a fleet of them, can remain on-site, on-call for any asset condition monitoring and remote data collection needs. Whether autonomously conducting autonomous inspections or being driven by a remote operator, these robots enable your operations managers to see, hear and even smell what’s happening at a remote facility without having to visit in person.

With consistent remote monitoring, it’s simple to maximize uptime. These robotic inspections help identify preventative maintenance needs and assess the risk in order to prioritize repair work. If an issue is flagged during condition monitoring and predictive maintenance inspections, a specialist can use the on-site robot to assess the situation remotely and make informed recommendations for next steps, instead of shutting down operations until they can physically access the area.

Minimize Downtime For Hazardous Inspections

Similarly there are many operational areas that are vital to inspect―to catch issues before they escalate or prevent catastrophic failure―but are dangerous for people. Think nuclear plants or electrical substations; inspecting these facilities typically means shutting down operations.

An agile mobile robot gives you the ability to perform hazardous inspections more frequently without the downtime. Instead of performing manual assessments, operators in a control room can focus on other responsibilities; the industrial inspection robot conducts an autonomous mission, and the operators can easily review the results or receive real-time alerts if issues are detected. Carrying a variety of inspection equipment, robots have the mobility, functionality, and autonomy needed to safely navigate these dangerous areas and allow operators to understand what’s happening in hard to reach, hazardous spots.

In addition to identifying active hazards like gas leaks and potential hazards like corrosion, using an agile industrial inspection robot also allows you to gather more information when a potential issue is flagged. The robot can go in for a close up look at potentially dangerous situations to better assess risk before sending in a team for repairs. It also enables ongoing condition monitoring of an issue to ensure it doesn’t require intervention before the next scheduled downtime.

Whether you're looking for safety, reliability, or consistency, agile mobile robots like Spot can be the solution to your industrial inspection and predictive analytics challenges. To learn more about how Spot can meet your inspection needs, download our latest ebook or contact sales today!

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